Contested heritage – time for change

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Contested Heritage

Contested heritage – time for change. For many Black Christians who attend white majority churches, Black History Month can stir up buried feelings and reflections of what the wider gathered Church means for them. For the White congregation it can be an important catalyst for reflecting on how to make Jesus’ message permeate behaviour, purpose and mission action plan.

Perhaps a timely reminder that the Christian story is not a European one, and the Bible is full of stories of social justice, speaking up for the marginalised, oppressed, the poor and the needy. The Christian story is one of action, the voice for change, in a world when change is often feared.

There are many churches who are doing an excellent job in welcoming and celebrating Black voices throughout the year. St George’s in Beckenham is one such Church.

St George Church
St George Church

On Friday I was in Beckenham for a meeting, I was early and found myself outside with 20 minutes to spare. I came in and admired the stained glass windows and was amazed to see a Black Jesus in stained glass.

St George Church, Stained Glass
St George Church – Stained Glass
The middle Jesus in this stained glass is Black, although hard to see in this picture

Looking round the Church I saw this on the noticeboard,

Contested Heritage
Contested Heritage – St George Church, Beckenham

surrounded by interesting articles with titles such as:

  • ‘Christian heritage is not for whites only’. Those who are nostalgic for England’s religious past should not ignore the colonial legacy, argues Renie Chow Choy.
  • ‘Inaction will lead to more lament’. The Church should fund racial-justice officers, say members of the Anti-racism Taskforce
  • ‘The Slave Experience: Religion. Historical Overview’ by Kimberly Sambol-Tosco
  • ‘Climate change is an issue of racial justice’. Will we go along with this injustice, as previous generations enabled slavery and empire, asks Jeremy Williams

Whilst reading these articles I was approached by Joan Conway their Reader. It is clear that Joan loves her Church and that she takes the (wider) Church’s Contested Heritage seriously. In this Church it is a year round commitment to change the narrative, which she takes up enthusiastically.

Joan pointed me to the Collect for Black History Month:

Compassionate God, who sent Jesus Christ to deliver us from all manner of injustices and inequalities, create in us new hearts and enlarged visions, to see the image of God in every person irrespective of background, race and ethnicity.

May we be generous in our love of others as we work towards ending misunderstanding, racism and injustice; creating communities of human flourishing, through Jesus Chrst your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Collect, Church of England

and explained how the Church would be celebrating Black History Month. They have decided to follow the US in looking at wellbeing:

Black History Month – Time for Change

Contested heritage – time for change. It can be seen as being too Maverick to use Black History Month as a catalyst to reflect on people of colour in the Bible and how to make Church an inclusive process where all members of the congregation feel like they belong. It seems that St George in Beckenham are taking the Maverick path. What other Churches in the UK are doing this?